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Literature / A Dance to the Music of Time

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A Dance to the Music of Time is a twelve-volume cycle of novels by Anthony Powell, inspired by the painting of the same name by Nicolas Poussin. One of the longest works of fiction in literature, it was published between 1951 and 1975 to critical acclaim. The story is an often comic examination of movements and manners, power and passivity in English political, cultural and military life in the mid 20th century.

The sequence is narrated by Nick Jenkins in the form of his reminiscences. Over the course of the following volumes, he recalls the people he met over the previous half a century. Little is told of Jenkins' personal life beyond his encounters with the great and the bad, with events, such as his wife's miscarriage, only being related in conversation with the principal characters. Nick mainly functions as a cipher, reporting on the actions of the other characters, specifically the inscrutable Kenneth Widmerpool who is arguably the protagonist of the series.

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Contains examples of:

  • Contrived Coincidence: The whole cycle runs on this. Nick keeps conveniently running into people from his past, or finding out that people he knew have coincidentally met or gotten together. Lampshaded in one of the later books, where the cult leader Dr. Trelawney is quoted as saying "coincidence is no more than magic in action."
  • Cold War: Referenced a lot in the last movement.
  • The Dog Bites Back: When Widmerpool climbs to a position of power in the military he manages to send both Peter and Charles to their deaths for the way they treated him at school.
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  • Second Love: Isabel, to Nick.
  • Serious Business: Because of Widmerpool's sense of self-importance, everything he attempts is serious business.
    • Also porridge, for General Liddament.
    • Anything to do with literature for X. Trapnel.
  • Stylistic Suck: The novels of St. John Clarke (a parody of John Galsworthy), who "confines himself to the dullest of dull ideas."
  • Trickster Twins: The Quiggin twins are unstoppable pranksters.
  • Ugly Guy, Hot Wife: Widmerpool and Pamela.
  • Unreliable Narrator: Nick is definitely trustworthy but he admits that there are some things about the other characters that he can't really know or understand.

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